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Movie Meltdown, $100 Tickets, And Dream Control: Lucas and Spielberg Forecast The Future Of Entertainment

Two guys who have made a few high-profile movies throw out 11 predictions on the future of entertainment, including a coming implosion. But also: no screens, no controllers, dreams as entertainment, and rebirth out of chaos.

Cheerfully characterizing 2013's entertainment landscape as "total chaos," George Lucas said on Wednesday that the collision of movie, television, video game, and Internet content represents a rare godsend for creative types. "Right now, there are amazing opportunities for young people moving into the (entertainment) industry to say 'Hey, I think I’m going to do this and there’s nobody to stop me’ because all the gatekeepers have been killed!"

Steven Spielberg, sitting next to Lucas on the stage of a University of Southern California auditorium, interjected, "They killed some pretty great people, too, who gave us our starts."

Spielberg smartly offered a shout out to the studio system that, once upon a time, unilaterally defined mainstream entertainment. But for the most part, he and Lucas displayed barely a shred of nostalgia when they joined Xbox boss Don Mattrick and CNBC-based moderator Julie Boorstin to celebrate the opening of USC School of Cinematic Arts's new Interactive Media Building.

Instead, Lucas and Spielberg, who dominated 20th-century Hollywood as masters of the buy-a-ticket, see-a- movie-in-a-theater universe, offered a bracing forecast about the shape of entertaining things to come. Here’s 12 predictions articulated by a couple of forward-thinking guys who invented the modern blockbuster (Jaws), revolutionized pop-culture merchandising (Star Wars), upped the ante on CGI animation (Jurassic Park) and pioneered digital filmmaking (Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace).

The bigger they come . . .

Spielberg said "We’re at the point right now where studios would rather invest $250 million in one film for a real shot at the brass ring than make a whole bunch of really interesting, deeply personal, and even maybe historical projects that may get lost in the shuffle. That’s going to be the big danger. There’s going to be a big implosion, a big meltdown where three or four, maybe even half a dozen of these mega-budgeted movies are going to go crashing into the ground."

Movies have become a luxury item.

Lucas elaborated on Big Movie Syndrome. "What you’re going to end up with is fewer theaters and bigger theaters with a lot of nice things. Going to the movies will cost $50, maybe $100, maybe $150. The movies will sit in the theaters for a year, like a Broadway show does, and that’s going to be what we call the movie business."

Expensive movies charge more.

Spielberg predicted an end to the one-ticket-size-fits-all model that, with the exception of premium-priced IMax and 3-D screenings, has defined the movie business from its inception. "Eventually there’s going to be a price variance where you’ll pay $25 to see the next Iron Man and probably only have to pay $7 to see Lincoln. There’s going to be that in our future as well."

Games tackle empathy gap.

Spielberg, who’s producing an Xbox TV series based on the Halo game and directing a movie based on Electronic Arts’s Need for Speed game, said: "The key divide between interactive media and narrative media is the difficulty of opening up an empathic pathway between the gamer and the character. A woman in jeopardy, guy’s life in jeopardy, once you get the controller in their hands, everything changes. You go from the experience of empathizing with performance mo-cap actors in a very realistic three-dimensional world, where you get kind of involved and learn the story and you hate the bad guy because he’s murdering innocent people and stuff like that . . . then all of a sudden it’s time to take the control. The second you take the control, something turns off in the heart and it becomes a sport. Right now, the great abyss is in allowing a player to become emotionally attached to a character."

Games get gentle.

Lucas said, "The gaming industry moved toward hard-core gamers who said 'I want a game where I can shoot somebody and blow their head off.' So the game industry moved in that direction. Of course, you can’t empathize with somebody you’re going to kill so that whole idea went out the window.

"The idea of creating characters you can empathize with is a goal to be reached. Within the next four or five years we’re going to see video games for women and girls that will be a huge hit. It will be like the Titanic of the game industry, where suddenly you’ve done an actual love story or something and everybody goes, 'Where did that come from?' because you’ve got personal relationships to deal with--not shooting people."

Gamers ditch controllers.

Spielberg believes game controllers and gesture-driven artificial intelligence will give way to completely immersive game experiences. "The artery blocker is the game controller," he said. "Once you get rid of controls, a bit like what Don is working on with Kinect, you’re basically hands-free, and once you get rid of having to bring your hands up in the air to direct the game play and give the A.I. an indication of what you want to do--once even that’s out of the way, you can put the player inside the game where they have to make choices about walking through a door, just like you really would, or sit down or stand up or speak to somebody or not speak to somebody. Once we are hands-free, truly hands-free, and we’re totally immersed in it, then that’s a whole other platform."

No more screens

"We’re never going to be totally immersive as long as we’re looking at a square," said Spielberg, outlining the traditional screen shape with his hands. "I believe we can get away from the proscenium. Whether it’s a movie screen or a computer screen, we’ve got to get rid of that. We’ve got to put the player inside the experience where no matter where you look, you’re surrounded."

Dream-o-tainment

Lucas pictures man-machine fusion as the end game for plugged-in recreation. He said, "In prosthetics, they can put an implant in your head and you can move your fake arm; you can control your body just by thinking about it. The next step is to be able to control your dreams. It’s exactly the same; it just taps into a different part of your brain. You’re going to put a hat on or plug into the computer and create your own world."

Spielberg interjected, "It’s The Matrix."

Lucas continued "We’re already doing it. That technology exists today. The only thing is, we haven’t turned it into an entertainment thing. We’ve just used it to help people who lost a limb move their hands and pick up things with their brain. We will be able to do the dream thing maybe 10, 15 years from now. This is not pie in the sky. It’s really going to happen."

Home Front: Niche audiences make money.

Lucas, noting that he plans to focus on more personal filmmaking now that he’s sold his LucasFilm company to Disney, said, "Cable television started to go niche and now we’re really in that situation where all you need is a million people, which, in the aggregate of the world, is not very many people. And you can actually make a living at this, whereas before you couldn’t. We need to have these quirky things, and the quirky world is getting bigger and bigger. Because you can put your movie in little houses, put it on Netflix or something and actually make some money out of it."

The big picture

Lucas likens content creators’ current monetary challenges to the Wall Street collapse five years ago. "If you think about it in terms of the economy, this is 2008," he said. "The stock has crashed. Everything is ruined. This is the time to invest. For the people who have the companies, they’re all panicked. It’s a mess. It’s total chaos. But out of that chaos will come really amazing things."

Future tech needs future stories.

Dazzling new technologies notwithstanding, Spielberg cautioned that show business, past, present, and future, depends on stories worth telling. "The thing I emphasize to everybody who comes to work at my company is, don’t play with the toys until you have something to say."

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10 Comments

  • Gary Horsman

    I agree that the current situation with the film industry is untenable. It may take a couple of years, but people will realize that the numbers don't add up anymore.

    I don't agree with the notion of melding the mind with a machine in the sense that Mister Spielberg is describing.

    I saw the story on 60 Minutes of the paraplegic woman who was able to control a robot arm with her brain and I was amazed. 

    But turning brain waves into physical movement is one thing (and still at this stage a monumental challenge), but it's not a straight line to dream control. We're talking multiple magnitudes of difference.

    Scientists have very little idea of the mechanics of dreaming or even of thinking. They'll have to solve those mysteries first before anyone comes up with commercial technology. And it may not be solvable after all.

    This is the flying car of entertainment.

  • Braden witt

    BLA BLA BLA lets say SCREW THE STUDIOS.. how many more remakes.. These two animals have the power to launch a new era of AMAZING studio films or forget who cares.. PGDONTCARE 

    NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW NEW PLEASE  AND DONT SELL TO BROADWAY 

  • Eric Pomert

    I'd hate to see screens done away with.  It's the connecting point between audience members and that makes it a community experience.  There are times when I want watch a movie at home alone, but watching in community offers a sustenance that can't be substituted by a 3-D virtual bubble.  I hope screens stay around, even if they change design and behavior.

  • adamthebrave

    In Australia the minimum single ticket price is $19, all the way up to $25 for 3D. And then on top of that, the last movie I was at had 25 minutes of ads before the movie actually started.

  • vinaythoke

    I'd rather listen to what James Cameron, Michael Bay and Zack Snyder have got to say.
    They're the Future.

  • Gary Horsman

    James Cameron was bullish on 3D in movies, hailing it as the future of all filmmaking going forward.

    Just recently, ESPN closed down its 3D sports channel citing low ratings.

    3D TVs were supposed to be the savior of the industry where companies are looking for the next big thing to boost lagging sales and razor-thin margins. Obviously, despite the optimism of a dwindling few still clinging to the dream, that has not panned out.

    The number of 3D theatrical releases have gone down since 2012 and their revenue share of box office receipts has similarly shrunk from this time last year.

    Don't get me wrong. I love James Cameron. He's terrific. But I think he made a huge mistake predicting a bright future for 3D. 

    You may listen. But do so with a grain of salt.

  • Mikeylikesit

    I love both of these guys, but they obviously haven't ventured out of their personal screening rooms for many, many years.

    We're already at the point of a night at the movies costing between $50 - $100.

    Family of 4 going to see a 3D movie= $40+ for tickets + 4 drinks, 1 - 2 tubs of popcorn, some candy = $35 - $50.

    So I guess we can surmise that the future is now?

  • Lisa

    He was talking about one single ticket costing $100.  Add in the rest of the family and popcorn now we are talking $500 for a night out.